Long is the Night, For the One Who Pines
The evening sky's painted in darkest hue. Shadows gradually crept in, blanketing over traces of light. Enwrapped in sombre haze, confusion shrouded my vision. Was this a figment of the mind or a truth that cannot be denied?—I couldn't process.
I flinched. A cold chill run down my spine. A familiar voice lingered, deadening Je te veux, playing in the background. The Meliora Records Store, as if connected to my veins, shivered in fear; the lights flickered in agitation.
"I am lost. I lost something... I can't remember. Please, c-can you help me?" the man asked nervously.
A strange visitor, in the dead of night, I thought, who's carrying a greater deal of fear? Perhaps, the one who escaped or the one who remembered everything and chose to live with it?
Veering my nerves back to calmness, I responded, feigning nonchalance. "I'm not sure how I could be of help, but if you find yourself in the store looking for something..." I said, averting my eyes. "There are two things in here that I can give to you." I reached out to the drawer underneath the counter and took a valuable item. "I need to look for the other one. But here, this one's yours." I handed out a vinyl record to the anxious man in front of me. "You sold your collection to the store a few days ago, but I kept this one." I tapped my finger on a handwritten dedication in the vinyl jacket. "It seems to hold a sentimental value, I can't resell it." To my dearest, I love you always, it said.
"C-can I play it?" he asked, looking longingly at a record of French chanson. For a brief moment, a gleam of hope exuded, as though he's radiating back to life—except, he couldn't. In a place, holding on for dear life and filled with fragments of the past, stood the ghost of a man in search of eternal repose. Cold. Dead. Lost soul. As the sophisticated music permeates into my skin, a traumatic scene surfaced, colonizing my mind, but much more so, my heart. The man, to whom I was going to confess my feelings to, chose his death, before I could even utter a single word.
The first time I saw him, was a spring afternoon. It was my period of mourning. A dire lost which occured several years ago induced a wound that never ceased to wane. With my parents gone, the records store slowly faded into a ghostly existence. In the midst of recollection, an insistent phone call brought me back to senses.
"Oh, hello Granny," I answered hesitantly.
"Kid, I'm finally selling you my records. Also, have lunch with me, yeah?"
Granny, a penchant collector of vinyl records, lives at the highest floor of a nearby apartment. As I stepped in, her home spills of nostalgia, induced by a familiar tune.
"Je te veux. Mom said, it sounds like a happy marriage. It's a bright piece."
"Bright, with melancholic undertones," Granny said. I shoot a questioning look her way.
"It's a piece about longing, a desperate one."
"That... sounds cruel," I mumbled, pondering about the dichotomy of melody and meaning.
"That's love! Kid, have you ever been in love?"
I chuckled softly and glanced at the window. "Love? I'm not sure..." I said this, as I was looking at someone who captured my sight. Adjacent to granny's, was a view of an apartment rooftop and standing there was a man, staring intently at the sky. Curious and profoundly immersed, something in the air stirred into motion. Without realizing, I was devising hundreds of ways to cross an imaginary bridge.
"Once I truly see something, I can't unsee it."—my mother once said, bothered over an inch of scratch on a well-loved vinyl. Reminded about a statement from the past, a strong wave swept over my bold effort at a normal existence. His presence greatly engulfed my little world; I began drowning in unfamiliar feelings.
One time, the man wandered around the records store, wearing his unchanging countenance—as if he's lost somewhere in a far-distant sky.
"You like Joe Hisaishi?" I awkwardly asked, looking at the vinyl in his hands. He was staring at a potted plant then snapped back to reality, seemingly apologetic.
"I like him," I mumbled. "Joe Hisaishi."
He lowered his gaze, gently smiling. "Someone I like... likes his compositions," he said.
The sudden heaviness in the air rendered my brave attempt at small talk, a very bad move. As the door closed behind him, my insides knotted into delusion and confusion. At such times, I justified my fear by saying that I am not a child that can mend and mold, but an adult, pieced back together from a wreckage. If I bend, I'll break. Therefore, I hid my words. Regardless, the store transformed into a picture of life, ever breathing, with a heart, steadily beating. "What's with all these plants?" Granny asked, awestruck at the enlivened scene. However, the newly acquired "life", didn't last so long. A few nights ago, the man sold a box of vinyl records to the store and ended his own life the following day.
As the evening grew and the chanson plays on, grave sentiments resounded like a song on loop. My thoughts, bordering dangerous territories, were interfered by a cold stare of a ghost.
"Are you afraid of me?" he asked.
"I'm not," I answered firmly. "Maybe... I was more afraid of learning your truth." Sometimes, I'd rather be haunted by a ghost than feel the void of an absence, I thought. "I often see you on that rooftop. That day, I went there to return your vinyl. I was there... but I was way too late."
There were certain scenes I remembered from that moment. From the edge of the rooftop, the man, as if aiming for the sky, touched a foot in the air then let the rest of his being, go. He flew freely into open space. But, as though his wings weren't strong enough to carry him, he landed, lifeless on the ground. And then I remembered running. Escaping. I remembered the harrowing screams and murmurs and sobs. I remembered my heartbeat albeit faintly. I remembered falling. I remembered clasping hard on the vinyl record and the words written on it. I could've said those words, had he chose to stay another day. I guess, I will never be your ground, neither will I ever be your sky—a burning thought, I silently screamed into the monochrome clouds.
"Don't you regret it? Death." I asked in distress.
"No... at least not as much as the way I lived," he said. "Some lived to their fullest and died early. Others died of old age, but never truly lived. I can't endure a meaningless life, I seek peace by ending it."
There might've been chances of closing the incomprehensible language between us. Rather than staring from granny's window, I could've crossed the street, climbed flights of stairs and opened every door of every wall that divides us, or—simply pushed the window wide open and screamed from where I stand. Or could it be, that I was too late from the start? For when I found life, he saw death. The comforting blue of the dusk sky, in his eyes, a beckoning night. While I hummed along with the melody, I was oblivious of the fact that every lyric, every note was an entangled mess of thread keeping him tethered to the past. When In chaos, I found rhythm, yet a war was raging inside of him.
"That's all I remembered—that I was looking for peace," he said, as he stood up from the floor. "Oh, didn't you say there's another thing for me?"
In response, I stood up, gently touched his face and leaned closer. As I kissed his cold lips, I felt like drowning in an ocean of unfathomable depth. "I hope you find your peace..." I said, mustering a smile. "Thank you," he muttered with a sincere, tender smile. Je te veux, I thought. Cruel love.
The moment I learned of his truth, the next thing I needed to learn was to let him go. With a heartfelt farewell, our story reached its conclusion. A vast distance grew between realities. He departed, reduced to silence, faded like a song. Brief, quiet, utterly solemn. I sighed in resignation and looked ahead, beyond the glass facade. And, just when it seemed that the world couldn't go on any further, the sun began to rise. The dawn gradually poured out its brand new light, seeping into every crevices, flowing ever so gently through surfaces and shelvings. It seeps into my being and I let it be. "It's warm..." I mumbled. I put on Je te veux on the record player and stood on a corner, still as time. A mere spectator, thoroughly engrossed, as the soft morning glow put an end to the long-drawn-out, persistent night.